It is difficult to paint the softness of clouds directly as you would paint solid objects. I place the colours on the canvas first and use a clean wide filbert brush to blend by cross-hatching. I do not use a medium, just a small amount of solvent to spread the colour. I use a pipette to add the solvent, a drop at a time as I mix the colours, so I don’t add too much. This helps the blending process as the small amount of solvent evaporates leaving a ‘dryish’ layer of paint. I avoid medium because the colours would spread into each other producing a single featureless colour. The process does take a bit of practice but the final effect makes it worth it.
This painting uses only 3 colours (Cadmium Yellow, Alizarin Crimson, Cobalt Blue) plus black and white. The black and white are Alkyd Fast Drying Paints. The colours are Artist Quality Traditional Oil Colours. It is recommended to use Alkyd colours under traditional oils as they dry faster. They can be mixed together if the mixing is thorough and the paint applied in a single thin layer. Avoid having distinct layers of different paint types. If the drying rates in the upper layers are faster (as with Alkyd) than the lower layers, paint might be prone to flaking off. Thick paint, varnishing, removing varnish, cleaning etc exacerbates the problem.
There is no medium used, only White Spirits. The size is 16.5″ x 12″. This was painted in a single ‘wet on wet’ session in about 2 hours.
Here is the process. To view in realtime change setting to .25. Quality can also be set up to 1080HD.
Across the flat midlands of Ireland you will come across small hills and ridges called drumlins, a legacy of the ice age, created by the melt waters as the glaciers advanced and retreated over hundreds of thousands of years. Many have been quarried for their sand and gravel deposits but here and there a few have survived. Like this little hill they add interest to an otherwise featureless landscape.
This is a small painting, measuring 10″x8″ and was painted in about one hour. I usually paint on loose un-stretched canvas which I later laminate onto a rigid board for framing. This was painted on a canvas textured oil painting paper which was sold as a surface for oil or acrylic painting. I found it too absorbent for oils and the colours deadened when the oil in the paint soaked into the paper. So I applied a thin layer of rabbit skin glue size to both sides, letting the first dry before coating the second side. This reduced the absorption and the colours remained vibrant until dry. Applying rabbit skin glue size is an ancient method of ‘sizing’ a surface prior to oil painting. It was found to resist the effects of dampness better than other organic materials, an important consideration in this part of the world.
I know there are modern synthetic equivalents, like ‘polybond’, which are probably as good or better but it takes a few years to see if they work as well, so I’ll stick to the traditional material until further notice. I use the modern material to laminate the canvas or paper onto a board as it does not come in contact with the paint layer. If it fails the worst that can happen is the canvas or paper detaches from the board and not the paint layer detaching from the surface. The modern material usually has a fungicide added and this prevents mildew and fungus from developing in damp conditions.
The colours used are Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red, Raw Umber, Cobalt Blue plus black and white. There is no medium used, only White Spirits.
It can be a little eerie, here in the water soaked bogland. Recently yet another body was found in the northern area of this remote sea of peat. As usual, it is thousands of years old and the circumstances of why this person was apparently sacrificed is lost in prehistory. Up until recently, turf was harvested as fuel for fires and the bogland was a busy place. Now many areas are preserved as heritage sites, because of the unique flora, and the wildness is returning.
To create an inner glow in the left foreground, which is in shadow, I painted thin layers of colour and allowed its transparency to produce the mid tones. Where the paint got a bit heavy, as in the large trees, I lifted the paint with solvent allowing light to shine through. The actual highlights were applies as white with a little Yellow Ochre dabbed onto wet paint and allowing the colours to mix.
The colours used were Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Olive Green, Ultramarine Blue plus black and white. There is a small amount of Liquin Fine Detail used for the white lines of the trees in sunlight. This is the only time a medium was used.
Away from the woods, here in the open, the colour of Autumn is a bit dull by comparison. A blaze of colour can dominate a painting and so, in a way, makes an interesting subject without much effort.
The colours used here were Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue. Three colours that work well together. This means less of the ‘mud’ which you get when more than two colours are mixed. In each and every part of this painting the three are used, only the proportions of each are different for the different parts. The sky has Cobalt Blue, and Burnt Sienna and a little Yellow Ochre in the clouds. The grassy field has more Yellow Ochre with less Cobalt Blue and a little Burnt Sienna. Not much in the way of a blaze of colour but lovely harmony.
I notice in many instructional painting videos, the items in a landscape are represented as solid shapes as they should be, but clouds are painted in the same way as solid objects. There seems to be no consideration of the nature of skies. The fact that the sky is not solid means it should be painted in a different way to how the solid objects are painted. ‘Dabbing’ white paint onto a blue gradient to represent a sky is the least helpful method for a beginner. Apart from poorly representing what we see or what we know a sky is like, the method is ‘dead-ended’ and does not allow progression and improvement through practice. In other words, the first ‘dabbed’ sky you paint will be the same as your last.
This post is an explanation of the method I use to paint realistic skies. You might find it useful. I have included a video in real time which will make it easier to see the process.
I used only 3 colours in this painting, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue. All 3 were used in the sky. The subject of the painting determined these colours. To create the sky I always use same colours as are used in the rest of the painting. This helps overcome the first difficulty in painting a sky, that is, making it an integral part of the scene. As a bonus there will be a harmony of colour within the painting.
Using photos of skies, is helpful when I plan a sky to fit into a painting. You will never find a perfect sky which can be copied. Its the effects of light and shapes I find helpful. The overall composition of the painting will dictate the sky in the final painting.
Its important that there is an ‘apparent’ randomness in the shapes of clouds. It cannot be completely random as in a photo, because it has to add to the entire composition. If we look at the painting above, the tree and the foreground on the left must be balanced by something on the right. This is almost achieved by the old house. Its position is just off-centre, but not far enough, and the composition will need a little more on the right to achieve balance. The sky provides this by adding weight to the right hand side. In planning the sky I will put more colours and shapes into the right side and have the left side, more or less, featureless. This part of the process happens mostly in the final stages of the sky painting.
To go back to the beginning, firstly I start with the cloud shapes. I used pure blue and solvent to roughly sketch out the shapes. This is deliberately ‘rough’ to introduce as many random patterns and shapes which will be developed later. Before the solvent completely evaporates, I paint a mixture of white with a tiny amount of yellow into the parts that will form the final cloudless blue bits. At this stage I am conscious of the need to concentrate on the right side.
I now make a mix of grey for the cloud shadows. So into what remains of the previous colour, I add red (Burnt Sienna), then more blue and a little black to get a mid grey. This is a nice clean colour as there are only 2 colours and the tiniest amount of a third, the yellow. Painted flatly this would produce a boring area of grey. But the patchy blue on the canvas and the remains of the white on the brush ensures that there is enough variation in this area. The next grey is a lighter grey made from white and a little black. This is applied with the same brush onto areas already painted so this neutral grey will vary into multiple colours. The final shapes of clouds are beginning to appear and I will try and get as much ‘apparent’ randomness into these shapes as I progress. More red and black is added to the grey for the clouds at the top as this part of the sky is closest to the viewer.
At this stage I start to blend the various patches of colour together. At the same time, with the same brush, I paint in cloud shapes especially on the right hand side. The blending action will pick up paint on the brush and this is used to paint in the cloud shapes. This blending is an alternating series of diagonal, vertical and horizontal light swipes of the brush on paint surface.
The paint must be the right thickness on the surface, the solvent must be almost evaporated and, of course, the colours must be in the right place. The same brush, a wide filbert, is used from start to finish without cleaning. No medium was used, only the solvent, white spirits. Its a skill requiring a bit of practice but well worth the effort. For me its a great method to represent non-solid objects in a painting. Remember, apart from clouds, mist, fog, smoke, rain etc., reflections on water are also non solid and can be represented using this method.
As the details of shadows or highlights are painted, I will continue to blend the colours until the final stages when the last highlights are painted in. Sometimes these also get the blending treatment.
Here’s the video of the process. I hope you find it helpful. See you soon.
Bluebells like shade. They are happiest in the deep woods where they have little competition from other plants. Here there were trees and in their shade was a small colony of these beautiful wild flowers. After recent storms many of the old trees fell and were taken away for firewood. Its only a matter of time until these flowers are choked by the new growth of the hardier ‘light loving’ plants. The remaining bluebells are strongest in the areas of shadow cast by the surviving trees.
I painted the tree on the right by placing drops of solvent rich paint onto the wet paint of the background sky. Before the solvent evaporated I used a fine brush to drag this paint into the shapes of branches. The solvent partially lifted the under layer and as the branch got smaller and smaller the line almost faded out. This produced the most delicate branches. This effect, and the gentle application of colour onto the background sky to represent the spring growth of leaves, produced this tree ravaged by storms but still surviving and preparing for summer.
As usual I used only 3 colours (Cadmium Yellow, Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine) plus black and white. There is no medium used, only White Spirits and loads of this. You might think that this solvent method will finally produces a painting of extremely thin and delicate paint layers. In fact the multiple layers placed one on top of the other does add up and although this effect makes an image thin and flimsy the paint is quite heavy. Remember this is all done in a single painting session, ‘wet on wet’. If individual layers were allowed to dry before proceeding to the next (traditional oil painting) all the problems associated with ‘fat over lean’ would lead to a brittle paint layer liable to crack and flake off.
On the subject of flaking off, stretched canvas is the most unstable surface on which to paint. It is in a constant state of stretching and shrinking. Linen canvas is the best for stretching but even this tightens in times of high humidity and loosens in dry conditions. Oil paint has to be flexible with a good amount of medium to survive this. So the advice to use linen and loads of medium for important paintings is sound in this situation. I mention this because many of the time honoured rules like ‘fat over lean’ and using linen only apply in certain circumstances. I mount my loose canvas onto a rigid board when the painting is dry and then I varnish it. The actual type of canvas does not matter provided it has been properly sealed and primed. So the linen or cotton rule is irrelevant. Also, the ‘fat over lean’ rule does not apply to the above method as there is only a single paint layer, applied in a single application.
This unusual and wind bent tree is on the shores of Glendalough in County Wicklow. When I need a break from the flat land of Kildare I travel a few miles east to this mountainous part of Ireland. Glendalough is a popular tourist location and a must-see for overseas visitors. Apart from the spectacular scenery, the remains of the monastic settlement (founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century) give an idea of the importance of this ‘Monastic City’ 1500 years ago.
The colours I used when I started this painting were Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue, similar to the last painting. However as I began to paint in the foreground, I couldn’t get the richness and depth of colour needed. The 3 colours produce beautiful harmonious colours and are great when suggesting a landscape running into the distance. Trying to overpaint a foreground, as in the line of trees, in the same limited range of colour is going to cause problems.
I use Olive Green as it is rich and dark and a similar shade of green as that produced by Yellow Ochre and Cobalt. Even as a neat unmixed colour it has a natural green colour.
I am using fine ‘liner brushes’ (used by sign writers) at the moment to help with the really fine lines of branches and grasses. I tried Liquin Fine Line and didn’t find it great for my application. My technique is to thin the paint with solvent only, to the consistency of ink. More fluid than the wet paint onto which I’m painting. If its not this thin, the brush will pick up paint rather than put it down. Draw the lines with a flicking action, rotating the brush. It takes a bit of practice, but its worth the effort.
I was planning to paint this scene as a dull grey morning with loads of blue-grey mist. The sky was already painted to fit such a scene when I had a change of mind and decided to look forward to a more pleasant sunny time which, hopefully will be here soon.
This is why Cadmium Yellow arrived late on the palette. The original colours were Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue. The combination of the yellows (Cadmium & Ochre) produce the most amazing range of ‘golden’ colours and it certainly has produced the brilliant light effect here.
Adding such a strong colour late into my painting process means backtracking to introduce this colour into as many places as possible to avoid alienating the particular shade of yellow. I would always try and have the entire range of colours in every part of the painting, particularly the sky. As it worked out it was good that this yellow was not in the sky mixes. This would have introduced too much warmth into the morning sky. As it is, in contrast to the rich hot colours created by the rising sun, the sky does seem to be cool.
A little bit of everything, weather-wise. There is a definite touch of Spring in the air. The cattle are out of their Winter quarters in spite of the wet conditions. For many farmers the winter feed is coming to an end and there is no choice but to let them out.
I’ve used my 3 favourite colours here – Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue.
When the black herds of the rain were grazing,
In the gap of the pure cold wind
And the watery hazes of the hazel
Brought her into my mind,
I thought of the last honey by the water
That no hive can find.
From The Lost Heifer by Austin Clarke
For a while I’ve not included black in my limited palette, usually of 3 colours. Not using black seems to be the norm by landscape painters. Probably because I use so few colours but I found it a bit restrictive. I would have to use a dark blue (Ultramarine or Prussian) to produce dark shadows and even at that it meant layer after layer of alternating red (Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber or Indian Red) and blue to build up the darks.
Here I have used Cobalt Blue and also black. It gives the painting a more ‘gritty’ look and in keeping with my current painting subjects – cold, wintery landscapes.
The colours used here are Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber and Cobalt Blue, plus black and white.
Here’s the video, see you soon.